Forgiving people for things we don’t care about
Stealing from the cookie jar is a naughty behaviour almost all children partake in, including me when I was a child. So common is this cute little crime that ‘stealing from the cookie jar’ has become a cliche used by the mass media to describe major criminal acts such as business fraud: “The financial director was found stealing from the cookie jar to the tune of £50,000”, for example.
When I was a boy, upon return from school I would ask my mother for permission to go into the pantry to get some orange squash to make a drink. Whilst I was in the pantry I would always pilfer a couple of custard creams and shove them in my pocket! As an adult, I discovered that almost all young boys (and girls too) do exactly the same thing.
Do we forgive the junior biscuit thief?
Of course we do! A child will probably get a little telling-off if he’s caught stuffing an illicit chocolate digestive down his throat, but it’s something which is instantly forgiven because, actually, such behaviour doesn’t hurt or offend us. What is more, the person we are forgiving is loved and is a member of our intimate family.
When forgiveness is not so simple
Forgiving people for things that don’t really matter to us is easy. This is not what Christian forgiveness is all about. We are asked to forgive those things that people do to us that cause hurt, offense, scandal, injury, or even death:
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Luke 6: 32-33 and 37-38
True forgiveness is extremely difficult. Some of the Church Fathers suggest that true forgiveness is possible only through the mercy and love of God. I’ve heard many Russian monks say, “God forgives, and so do I”, showing that the root of forgiveness is Divine. Jesus tells us to love those who do not love us, not to judge and not to condemn. Our own forgiveness is in someways contingent on our own capacity to forgive others. And this capacity comes from God. Outside of a true and loving relationship with God, we cannot begin to start forgiving others. As our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ draws us nearer to Him, His loving-kindness reveals our own need for forgiveness. That in turn show us how we too should forgive others, however difficult that may be. The closer we grow towards God, the greater awareness of our own need of forgiveness, and the greater our ability to forgive others.
Forgive and Forget
I have heard this said so many times: “I’ve forgiven her for such-and-such, but I’ll never forget it”. What kind of forgiveness is this? It’s a partial, half-baked kind of forgiveness at best, and at worst not forgiveness at all.
When Our Lord cleanses us from our wrong-doing, our sins are not only forgiven, they are forgotten. This is essential. We start again (and again and again) as one who is newly baptised. Our souls are washed clean and all stain (memory) is removed. If this is how God deals with our sins, He requires us to do likewise with others.
Forgetting as well as forgiving is essential to our growth in love for God and for our neighbour. Not forgetting is like picking at the wound after a tumor has been removed. If we do this we will never heal, and our relationship with the ‘offender’ will be always compromised. If left alone, the wound will heal fully, and we can get on with the business of love, our true vocation as Christians.
Lord Jesus Christ, help me to forgive others, as I am forgiven by You!